Former players reconnect at MLBPAA event in Phoenix
Nearly 50 ex-big leaguers take part in Alumni Day gathering at Chase Field
PHOENIX -- Jerry Kindall and Dick Johnson played together in the Cubs' Minor League system. That was 55 years ago.
But the two were embracing in a bear hug Sunday afternoon at Chase Field.
Kindall and Johnson were part of nearly 50 former players to enjoy a Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association Alumni Day prior to the Diamondbacks-Rockies series finale. The Kindall-Johnson embrace was the biggest of the day, but there was no shortage of smiles and laughs as the former players fell back into many of their old clubhouse routines from days gone by.
There were discussions on how to pitch some of today's best hitters, batting strategies and plenty of laugh-inducing stories.
"So many of the intersections in a baseball player's life can come back together at a thing like this," said Kindall, a former infielder who played nine years in the Majors and retired after the Twins released him in 1966.
The event was the seventh of eight Alumni Days put on around the country in recent weeks by the non-profit MLBPAA, which was founded in 1982 to help former players transition into life after baseball. The MLBPAA promotes the game and raises money for charity through its membership. But Sunday's event was a social one for former players living in Arizona.
"When we reconnect as groups we start to feel some of what we felt as players," said Mike Remlinger, a former left-handed reliever who played 14 seasons before he retired in 2006. "We remember that camaraderie and that team of everyone pulling together. It helps out a lot. I think to a man, if you ask guys what they miss, if they can put it into words, it really comes down to the teammates, camaraderie and just hanging out with your buddies and being with peers who have the common goal of 'Let's go win a ballgame.'"
That's how Mike Kelly, who was attending his first MLBPAA event, felt as soon as he walked through the door.
"I've seen a few guys I played with, and there are a lot of faces who I didn't get the chance to play with who I'm meeting for the first time, which is great," said Kelly, who roamed the outfield for four teams in six seasons in the late 1990s. "It's tough [retiring]. When you've done something for most of your life and you're so familiar with it and comfortable with it, it's hard to do anything else. I try to stay involved in the game as much as possible. It's an ongoing process.
"You never know what life is going to throw at you. It's almost as if it was just yesterday we were playing together. It's really cool to have these kinds of relationships. It's great to see where life has led guys."
That is exactly what MLBPAA CEO Dan Foster envisioned for the Alumni Day get-togethers, which are expected to become annual events.
"I've seen tears in guys' eyes," Foster said. "There is a business side to it; I'm the voice for these guys in terms of pensions and health care. But there is a fraternal aspect. We just want to get guys in the same room and let it happen. I've seen guys walk up to each other who haven't seen one another in 40 years and give each other a big hug."
Fittingly, Foster's comment came mere minutes before Kindall and Johnson entered the room.
Chris Gabel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.